Community Is About Your Behavior, Not Your Brand

Building community around your brand has nothing to do with your brand

by Jason Falls |

Think for a moment about the communities you’re a part of. Typically, our minds begin with geographic qualifiers and branch out. I’m a member of my local community, which can be described in the context of my city or my neighborhood. Distilling down to the neighborhood association sickens me — mine is run by rabid former hall monitors — but it certainly applies.

From there, we extend thoughts to groups with whom we share some common interest. Perhaps you consider your church/temple/synagogue, a professional association or even an alumni group or informal collection of high school or college friends a community to which you belong. For many of us, our next step is into the world of online communities. Maybe you join others on an online game from time to time, or have a collection of Facebook friends that don’t meet some pre-existing standard.

Whatever your definition of community, and those to which you belong, think about why you belong and what makes it a community. There’s a good chance you feel a part of your church, not because of the church, but because of the behavior of its members. You feel more like them than other communities of worship you considered. If you enjoy your neighborhood, it’s likely not because of the location or the local services you can access, but because your neighbors behave like you, look like you, and act like you. Or at least like you’d like to behave, look and act.

Now extend that analysis to the online world. Do you consider yourself a part of community here at Social Media Explorer? What about Mashable? Reddit? Wikipedia? If so, it’s not because of SME or those other sites and what the offer. It’s probably because you appreciate the behavior of those websites in empowering you to be a part of something more than you could build on your own.

I had the honor of welcoming participants to Social Slam last week in Knoxville. That event is an in-real-life extension of Mark Schaefer’s {grow} community — a real community of people gathered together to contribute to an overall goal or good for reasons beyond personal benefit. Mark is a genuine contributor among genuine contributors. He has welcomed and valued each and every person who has commented, guest posted, linked, Tweeted and more to his content or that of his guest authors. That sense of belonging — of appreciating Mark’s behavior and mirroring it — has brought together a unique group of people focused on a certain worldview and thriving off of giving and receiving from one another.

Community only happens when the brand’s behavior is that which its audience wants to embrace and emulate themselves

When I think of brands that foster community — Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Harley Davidson, Fiskars, Southwest Airlines and more — I keep landing on that guiding principle: These are great brands with great products, yes. But community only happens when the brand’s behavior is that which its audience wants to embrace and emulate themselves.

Why do people love Zappos? Because they think that’s how an online retailer should embrace them, give them free returns and shipping, cater to their need to feel catered to. It’s how they would do it. Why do people love Southwest Airlines? Because they think flying should be quick, easy, fair and without pretense.

If you ask the question, “Why do people love our brand?” and you answer with something that is about your brand, you’re not fostering community. The answer will lie in your behavior. Until it does, the only community you’ll ever have is servers full of wireframes and profiles — hollow containers of what could be.

People will flock to you when you behave in a way that makes them want to. Get that, and you have your community.

About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).